The latest data shows that as many as 6,800 prescription medications are available for doctors to prescribe in the United States. This number doesn’t account for all the over-the-counter drugs, supplements, or herbal treatments on the market.
Given this statistic, it’s no wonder that patients suffer adverse outcomes attributable to medication errors. Over 9,000 American patients die from such mistakes annually. Many pharmaceutical injuries or medication errors are completely preventable.
Below, we’ll explore why these phenomena occur and what can improve outcomes. We’ll also discuss any recourse you have for holding negligent parties liable for the adversity that you faced.
What Factors Result in Prescription Errors?
The patient care cycle involves multiple steps. Prescribing mistakes or drug administration oversights can occur at many stages within that process, including:
During medical history taking: A medical assistant may neglect to write down a patient’s medication or their previous adverse reaction (like an allergy). They may also record the wrong medication or dosage. All of these oversights can result in a physician thinking it’s safe to prescribe a certain drug when it may cause potential patient side effects if they do.
When medical providers initially prescribe the medication: Doctors may do this because they misdiagnose a patient or fail to take time to learn about a drug’s contraindications. A physician may also confuse two drugs or prescribe a larger dose than appropriate for a patient’s age or size without performing adequate dosage calculations.
Transcription or interpretation issues: A doctor may dictate patient encounter notes into an audio device. A medical scribe or nurse may then transcribe that information. The wrong prescription may end up getting called in if the transcription is unclear and the person calling it in doesn’t ask questions. The same goes for the individual at the pharmacy reading the prescription.
Health care information technology (HIT) glitches: Many health care facilities use HIT systems to research and dispense drugs or record their administration. Human data entry errors may result in medication errors if your medical provider uses a HIT system. Also, programming bugs may emerge, resulting in inaccurate recordkeeping, causing adverse patient outcomes.
Pharmacy-specific oversights: Pharmacies have an obligation to keep track of their drug inventory to ensure that the medications they’re distributing aren’t expired. They must also be cautious only to include the appropriate percentages of active ingredients when compounding medications. Adverse patient outcomes can result from patients receiving a less or more powerful drug than doctors ordered.
Monitoring issues: Health care providers must carefully observe patients after administering medications to ensure that they’re responding well to them. Inadequate oversight over patient care may result in their health deteriorating, especially if they didn’t receive an adequate drug dosage to address their underlying concerns. Too much of a medication can cause other, potentially-deadly medical ailments to emerge.
Research shows that a staggering 50% of medication errors occur at either the prescribing or drug ordering stage within the patient cycle. That same data shows that most of these oversights involve doctors prescribing the wrong medication or an unsafe or inadequate dosage of the right one at incorrect intervals.
What Steps Can You Take to Minimize Your Risk of Medication Errors?
Patients often rely too much on their medical providers to ask the right questions necessary to arrive at the correct diagnosis, know everything about the drugs they prescribe them, and do checks and balances for potential contraindications. However, physicians are often overworked and overwhelmed and may fail to do everything to keep you safe.
You must take charge of your health care to minimize the chances of an adverse event occurring. Some ways in which you can do this include:
Always ask questions: If you’re curious about whether your doctor saw certain information in your medical records or fear that you didn’t understand something they said correctly, ask follow-up questions. The same logic applies if you wonder why your treating physician prescribed one medication over another or you want to know what telltale signs to look for as indicators that your medication is working. Questions may shed light on potential areas of oversight, thus averting medication errors.
Do your own independent research: Physicians don’t tend to look very fondly upon patients who “try to play doctor” and diagnose themselves. Even so, you at least owe it to yourself to learn more about your diagnosis after receiving it. You may want to read up on it, including available treatment options to ensure what your doctor has prescribed appears to be best for you.
Read your medication labels: Prescription drugs often come with warning labels on their packaging and additional leaflets with even more details about them. Reading through these may be worthwhile to learn what the pharmaceutical company and pharmacy say about your prescribed medication. You may also need to perform some outside research online to investigate conditions that the drug treats, recommended dosages, side effects, and other details as part of your due diligence efforts before taking it.
Consult with your pharmacist or medical provider immediately when concerns arise: Many patients brush off concerns about their medication not looking or having the markings like the pictures in the leaflet that came with it. Patients may also second-guess their lack of improvement or not acknowledge that their condition is deteriorating because their doctor prescribed the wrong drug or dosage or the incorrect one for their condition. All these factors can wreak havoc on your health, causing irreversible and potentially deadly consequences. That is why you need to address them at their earliest signs.
How Can a Medical Malpractice Attorney Help in Medication Error Cases?
While many medication and other medical errors are preventable, there are just as many that aren’t. Little Rock med mal attorneys like ours here at McMath Woods P.A. have extensive experience reviewing medical records to determine if negligence occurred.
Your Little Rock medical malpractice attorney will go over your options for pursuing present and future medical expenses, compensatory damages such as pain and suffering, and other losses if they determine that negligence occurred per Arkansas law. Reach out to us at McMath Woods P.A. for a complimentary case evaluation today before the statute of limitations prevents you from taking action.